What Could the Timbers' US Open Cup Lineup Look Like?
With squad rotation all but a given for a midweek clash against Orange County SC, who might we see take the pitch for Portland?
The Portland Timbers are coming off of a frustrating (yet promising) 2-1 loss against FC Cincinnati, and sandwiched between that game and an upcoming trip to high-flying St. Louis City SC this coming weekend, is the club’s opening round fixture in the US Open Cup against Orange County SC.
With the injury issues the Timbers have had to deal with so far this season, it’s safe (like, almost guaranteed) to assume that the Timbers will deploy a heavily-rotated squad for the match out of necessity. You simply can’t start the same players three times in eight days and expect them to last for 90 minutes.
With that in mind, I thought I’d take a stab at predicting the lineup that Giovanni Savarese might send out against Orange County. I should also note that I was in attendance for Timbers 2’s first win of the season against LAFC 2 on Sunday - A match that featured some of the players we will probably see on Wednesday night.
But when it comes to the Timbers’ calling players up from T2, we should first start with the roster/signing constraints MLS clubs* face in these types of situations:
TL;DR: The Timbers can sign up to four players, 25-years-old or under, from T2 for the US Open Cup match. With that out of the way, which of T2’s players do I think we’ll see? If I were a betting man, my four would be: Noel Caliskan, Ian Shaul, Blake Pope, and Tyler Clegg.
Caliskan, a box-to-box midfielder, was the Timbers’ first round pick in the 2023 MLS SuperDraft and leads T2 with three goals in four MLS Next Pro matches this season. Shaul, also a central midfielder, is a product of the Timbers’ academy that the club think very highly of, and certainly capable of playing in a match of this caliber. With midfield depth an area of concern, I think Caliskan and Shaul make a lot of sense to call up for the game - both players played 45 minutes in the win over LAFC 2.
Another current area of concern for the Timbers is center back, having failed to acquire one before the MLS Winter Transfer Window deadline on Monday, April 24. This (and if I’m being honest Larrys Mabiala’s performance against Cincy) is why I believe Tyler Clegg, a left-sided central defender, is another likely selection from T2. Clegg was T2’s best defender in the win against LAFC 2, and would pair perfectly at the back with Eric Miller or Dario Zuparic, who is available for selection again after a stint on the health and safety protocol list.
That leaves Blake Pope, who has been primarily deployed as the left wing-back for T2 this season. Pope had started the two matches prior to the win against LAFC 2 but came on right at the 60th minute mark on Sunday, and with Claudio Bravo still dealing with an injury that kept him out of the Cincy match, I think Pope will probably start at left back for the Timbers.
So what might a Starting XI look like for Portland? Here’s my best guess:
GK: Hunter Sulte
DEF (R to L): Pablo Bonilla - Eric Miller, Tyler Clegg - Blake Pope
MID: Noel Caliskan, Cristhian Paredes, Ian Shaul
FWD (R to L): Marvin Loria, Nathan Fogaca, Diego Gutierrez
BENCH: Aljaz Ivacic, Dario Zuparic, Justin Rasmussen, David Ayala, Sebastian Blanco, Tega Ikoba, Jaroslaw Niezgoda
I think my selection is pretty straightforward when taking all the context into consideration. I’d be stunned if Diego Chara, Evander, Juan Mosquera, Santi Moreno, Dairon Asprilla or Zac McGraw make the lineup based on how many minutes they have played this season (and in Evander’s case his lingering hip issue). Rasmussen started against Cincy and will have to again against St. Louis in the likely scenario that Bravo isn’t ready to return to action, so I wouldn’t expect him to start either.
The biggest news for the Timbers prior to the match is that Sebastian Blanco has been medically cleared to play, so look forward to some sort of cameo from Chucky in the Open Cup.
Aside from those previously mentioned, the rest of the bench is really all the Timbers have left and available for selection.
The Timbers also announced on Monday that the match against Orange County will in fact be available for supporters to stream via the CBS Sports Golazo Network (kickoff set for 7:30 p.m. PT), an important development for fans and the growth of this sport in the US.